Background briefing

Tiger Reserves, India

The lives of tribal people across India are being destroyed in the name of tiger conservation.

This is illegal under national and international law. And it won’t save the tiger.



Illegal evictions, threats and abuse

Tribal peoples across India are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of tiger conservation. They’re promised alternative land, housing, and money, but these are lies: they often receive little or nothing, and end up living in abject squalor on the edge of their territory.

This is illegal – the law says they are allowed to stay, but forest guards routinely arrest, fine, beat and bully them until they get out.

Baiga elder, Bardan Singh was abused by park guards in Kanha Tiger Reserve, India.
Baiga elder, Bardan Singh was abused by park guards in Kanha Tiger Reserve, India.
© Survival

The forest guards beat me until I fell from the tree. I split my hip bone and couldn’t stand. I crawled to the edge of the park. The guards just left me and walked away.

Bhardan Singh, Kanha, February 2013


Save the tiger: keep the people

There is no evidence that any of this protects tigers: in fact it’s more likely to harm them. Tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world – they should be at the forefront of tiger conservation, but are being excluded.

Far from killing tigers, they often regard them as holy. There is even evidence of more tigers living in areas where the people have not been thrown out. Crowds of tourists can stress the animals; the tigers also can no longer prey upon tribal livestock.

Tribal peoples’ lives are being destroyed by the conservation industry, but Survival is fighting these abuses. We know tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else.

Before, everything was the jungle. We were the jungle, the jungle gave us everything. We were happy. We were strong, we were fit. Now it’s all closed and we don’t get anything. We’re not strong anymore. We’re not healthy any more. It’s our jungle. We should be protecting it.

Sakru Dhurwey, Baiga man


How can you help?

India’s Forest Rights Act recognizes tribal communities’ rights to remain on their land and harvest its resources, even when it’s turned into a conservation zone. Yet these rights are continually violated, and many tribespeople are unaware they even exist.

But there is hope. Survival is working with partners on the ground to ensure India’s tribal people are informed of their rights. We are campaigning to prevent further evictions from tiger reserves and are supporting those seeking redress for past injustices.

We need your help to stop the latest round of expulsions. Please take action now.


Baiga and Gond banned from India's Kanha Tiger Reserve, their home for countless generations.
Baiga and Gond banned from India's Kanha Tiger Reserve, their home for countless generations.
© Survival


Living in fear: Kanha Tiger Reserve

A Gond man interviewed by Survival before his eviction.
A Gond man interviewed by Survival before his eviction.
© Survival

For decades, tribal communities have lived in fear of eviction from tourism hotspot, Kanha Tiger Reserve. Many villages have already been kicked out. Villagers lives and livelihoods have been destroyed.

This film was made in 2012. Since then this village has been evicted.

Baiga tribals thrown out of the reserve can get a few menial jobs serving the tourist industry, or as guides. Seeing no alternative, many scrape a living collecting firewood from inside the reserve to supply the nearby hotels. If found, they face beatings and fines. In fact all Baiga found inside the reserve, whether working for hotels or gathering their own forest produce, risk being beaten.

They can see hundreds of tourist vehicles driving through their own land searching for the tigers, and new hotels springing up in the same zones from which they have been evicted.

The tourism industry is harming conservation. Why are organizations like the WWF supporting it?

Tourists watching a tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park.
Tourists watching a tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park.
© Brian Gratwicke


Parks need peoples

The Baiga face a grim and uncertain future, like all tribal people whose lands and resources are stolen. Formerly self-sufficient communities are forced to rely on food hand-outs, while mental and physical illness, malnutrition, and alcoholism soar, and life expectancy plummets.

The Baiga and Gond have lived with and nurtured the flora and fauna of Kanha for generations. They have helped catch illegal hunters, control forest fires and track wildlife. But, once evicted, communities can grow hostile to the conservation measures and associated tourism that have caused them so much suffering.

With their livelihoods wrecked, and their link with the forest severed, they may no longer be motivated to collaborate with conservationists, who end up alienating the very people who should be their allies in environmental protection.

Tiger conservation will continue to fail until tribal peoples’ rights to their land are respected and everyone accepts that they should be at the heart of conservation efforts. Tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else.

In 2011, the Soliga made history when they succeeded in having their forest rights upheld in an area that had been turned into a tiger reserve. They faced the threat of eviction, and won. The Soliga’s success has given hope to other tribal communities whose lands are being stolen in the name of “conservation”.
In 2011, the Soliga made history when they succeeded in having their forest rights upheld in an area that had been turned into a tiger reserve. They faced the threat of eviction, and won. The Soliga’s success has given hope to other tribal communities whose lands are being stolen in the name of “conservation”.
© Shrenik Sadalgi/Survival


My heart cries

The camp of Asan Kudar, where over a hundred Khadia tribals, who were thrown out of Similipal Tiger Reserve, have lived under plastic since 2013. They’ve received only a tiny proportion of the promised compensation. Indian newspapers have heralded this eviction as a “successful” model.
The camp of Asan Kudar, where over a hundred Khadia tribals, who were thrown out of Similipal Tiger Reserve, have lived under plastic since 2013. They’ve received only a tiny proportion of the promised compensation. Indian newspapers have heralded this eviction as a “successful” model.
© Survival International

The Forest Department was so enthusiastic about this “village” that it brought people from the Munda tribe to visit, expecting them to welcome their own “relocation” as a result.

Munda man Telenga Hassa, whose village is threatened with eviction from Similipal Tiger Reserve.
Munda man Telenga Hassa, whose village is threatened with eviction from Similipal Tiger Reserve.
© Survival International

In fact, Telenga Hassa, one Munda visitor, pleaded, "We appeal to you that we should be allowed to stay in the same village where we are now. We will protect the wildlife – we promise. Don’t displace us! Let us stay in the same place we are now.

“We have been there [to Asankudar resettlement village]. Seeing their condition made my heart cry. Please don’t displace us. Please let us stay in the same village where we are now.”

Telenga fought for his community’s right to live in and protect their forest, but the pressure was too great for 32 families who were “relocated” in September 2015. The day after they left the Forest Department brought in elephants to destroy their old homes, in case they tried to return. Telenga and five other Munda families are determined to stay in their village and to continue to protect the tigers and the forest.

Please help us support this community and others resisting illegal eviction.







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